Finding balance in a stressful situation


I have just emerged from a month-long project at work that was challenging, stressful, and exhausting.  I worked for most of the holiday break while everyone else was relaxing, and I finally submitted my project on Friday.  To say that this project took a toll on me is an understatement.  I’m so glad it’s over.

I’m still struggling quite a bit with my new job, both in terms of the work itself and in maintaining some sort of enjoyable personal life outside of it.  The hardest part is dealing with the increased level of stress on a daily basis.  Even if I get home from work at a decent time, I’ve been having a really hard time calming down my mind enough to enjoy anything in the evenings.  I’ve barely been sewing or, for that matter, doing anything other than zoning out in front of the tv before crashing and falling asleep by 9pm.  And I have stress dreams about work every night, ugh.

I’ve been questioning my ability to do several things lately:

  1. Remain in my current field, which will only get more challenging and more stressful as the years go on.
  2. Maintain this blog when I can barely manage to carve out any time for creative hobbies.
  3. Find a new equilibrium in my daily life, something both sustainable and enjoyable.  I feel like I lost this on the day of my thesis defense in August and haven’t managed to get it back since.

I keep telling myself that change is difficult, and it’s only been a few months.  Pushing yourself to learn new skills and take on more responsibility can be challenging and unpleasant, but how else will you grow if you never push yourself?  I’m proud of my progress and, when I step back, I really do enjoy my work.  I just have to adjust to this new day-to-day situation.

Today, I feel beaten to a pulp by this last project.  Tomorrow, maybe I will feel stronger.  Next week, maybe I will feel great!  I’ll have to take it one day at a time.

Here’s wishing you all strength and courage in whatever challenging situation you’re currently dealing with.  Perhaps we can all find support in each other.  🙂

32 thoughts on “Finding balance in a stressful situation

  1. Oh, Carolyn, I am sorry to hear you’re dealing with so much work stress. I hope it lets up soon (if that’s possible!) I know that having work stress dreams is no fun! It sounds like zoning out in front of the TV might be the best thing for you in your current situation. Take care of yourself!

    • Thanks Teri, I hope it lets up soon too! I still feel like I’m settling into this job, and I’m curious to see how things will be when all the dust finally settles. In the meantime, I’m just trying to get through each day.

  2. Hang in there! I’m in the middle of this balancing act too…. I hope you get things figured out so you are less stressed soon. Don’t feel bad if it takes you awhile to figure things out.

    • Thanks, and best of luck with your situation as well. I often remind myself that I’m not the only one dealing with stress, and probably almost everyone has something weighing on them at any given time. It’s just part of life. We can all look forward to the next period of calm… whenever it may arrive. 🙂

  3. Finding the balance is so difficult but it’s important to do what makes you feel better, whatever that might be, even if it means taking a blogging break. Your own sanity is the most important!

    • Yes, I completely agree! I really enjoy blogging (and sewing) and miss being able to devote time to those activities. Right now I don’t want to give up the blog, but I can’t sustain a sewing blog with no sewing. We’ll see how things go.

  4. That sounds very stressful! I hope it calms down as you settle in to the job. Hate when people say things like this to me – but maybe try a quick walk/ run / swim.. After work to help you wind down. I changed my career last year – from ecology to starting up a fabric shop/ dressmaking business. Was mental coming up to xmas but I’ve been taking it really easy since then trying to work just a few hours a day. I’m just beginning to catch up on household and garden jobs and spending a bit more time with my boys. It was meant to be a part time job but I’m going to have to go with the flow for now.

    • Oh Maeve, I can’t imagine how big of a change that must have been for you, and what a crazy time it must have been with all the holiday shopping! I’m glad you’re taking it easy on yourself now that the rush is over. One day at a time. And you bring up a good point about walking – I used to have a 25-minute walking commute at my old job, which has now been replaced with a 45-minute ride on a packed subway. The combination of losing the exercise and replacing it with an unpleasant ride is definitely contributing to my anxiety. I need to find a way to get more exercise into my daily routine – it makes a difference.

  5. I so sorry that your work is so stressful, I wish you will find a new equilibrium in a short while.

    I can relate to what you are going through. I started my internal medicine rotation a week ago and the stress is building up quickly.

    Funding comfort in others is important, I hope you you will continue to update this blog and inspire the rest of us!

    • Thanks Roni, and I wish you peace and strength in your new position as well. I don’t think I could handle a medical rotation! I can imagine it must be very competitive though, and competition is a big part of what I’ve been struggling with at my job. There is not only pressure to perform, but to perform better than everyone else. It’s a big mental hurdle to overcome.

  6. Hi Carolyn, I wish you a happy new year! Having stressful dreams is not fun, sleep is supposed to be a time of re-filling your batteries, not of depleting you of your energy. Have you tried any stress management techniques/ exercises? They might help you cope at a very practical / immediate level, but also give you some insights on triggers of anxiety that may be operating at a deeper level. Also, is there anybody at work to whom you might turn for advice or for just sharing your thoughts about what it is in your work environment that causes so much anxiety?

    • Thanks Irene, Happy New Year to you as well! I haven’t tried any stress management techniques but should look into this. Thankfully I have a good support network at work – I share an office with some coworkers, and we all commiserate about our daily struggles. My boss is wonderful too – extremely supportive and understanding. I think I know exactly what is stressing me out, so it’s a matter of either relieving some pressure associated with those things or learning to deal with them better.

  7. Oh man, I feel your pain! I had a pretty rough weekend obsessing about work far too much…as I very often so… and this counts as probably the easiest year i’ve ever had in my teaching career! For you, the transition to something new can’t be helping. Maybe it’ll get better, maybe you’ll get used to it, and maybe it’s not the career for you! Time will tell, and meanshile, just do what you need to get through! Blogging and sewing will always be there for you when you have time and energy! 🙂

    • Thanks Gillian, and good luck managing your work situation too! I always give teachers a ton of credit, especially those who work with kids. As for my new job, yes, time will tell. I’m in a transitional 2-3 year position as kind of a trial-run for a permanent job in academia, so this is the perfect time to determine whether I really like this work or not. We’ll see!

  8. I hope things even out for you soon! I’m sure with experience and patience and allowing yourself to set aside your hobbies for a while, a balance will return. It probably won’t happen quickly, but you’ll get there eventually. Best wishes!

    • Thanks Lisa. I’m waiting very impatiently for balance to return, but I know I’ll get there eventually. Fingers crossed it’s sooner rather than later!

  9. Sorry to hear the stress is starting to add up to too much! Do you have anybody in your office you can talk to about what you’re going through? Someone once told me that there’s only so much we can accomplish in a day, and getting realistic and vigilant about this is a good way to stay mentally and physically healthy. And your blog readers will understand if you need a bit of a break to get back on solid ground!

    Also, this is just my experience in past jobs, but things seem to have a way of settling down around the 6-month mark.

    • Thanks Morgan, and I agree that 6-months seems to be a good milestone for most people. I’m getting there… slowly. I do have people to talk to, and even better, my boss is extremely supportive and understanding. The pressure is coming from myself. My job is a temporary position to build up my resume as much as possible in preparation for an extremely competitive job market for faculty positions, so I’m trying to check all the boxes before I start applying. Successful applications have insane resumes. How do they do it??

  10. Hi, Carolyn, Sorry to hear about the stress and having to figure out the right balance. With my job, we get super busy around mid July through the last week in September. Some years it was so bad that all I could do was go to work at dark thirty and come home at dark thirty and basically just crash before starting the process again. I found that if I could take a 30 minute walk or get in the car and get a coke, basically, just change the scenery for 30-45 minutes, I could get through the work day. With some jobs, it’s hard to figure out the flow as to when things are busiest and when they slow down. Is there any way to tell if your work situation is temporary or if that’s the way it always is? I’m glad you have people to commiserate with and hope everything improves. Just remember, you have to do what’s good for you and if that means taking a break from blogging or sewing or changing your work field, then that’s what you need to do. I think though, as much time and effort as you put in to get your PhD, I would think long and hard about leaving the field. Good luck figuring this out.

    • Thanks Donna. Yes, I do think I need a change of scenery on a daily basis, and I need to figure out a way to make time for this. It makes a difference! I think this job will have ups and downs, like yours. I’m just getting through a bunch of hard deadlines, but once they pass, I do think things will calm down a bit. I should clarify that I’m definitely not thinking about leaving my field entirely – I put so much time into my degree, and I really do love the field! It’s just a matter of whether I choose to focus on research or teaching. I’m in research now, but suspect teaching is where I’ll wind up.

  11. No good about the stress, but if you break from blogging/sewing for a bit, we’ll all still be here waiting to see and read about what you sew when you can! Do you manage to fit in any time for exercise? Sometimes it can be stressful just to fit it in but I often find I can sleep better if I find the time and energy for a bit of yoga/pilates/swimming or something.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right! I need to make time to fit something into my schedule, even if it’s as simple as getting off the train 1 stop earlier and walking the rest of the way home. I have a coworker who keeps asking if I want to join her for yoga after work, and I need to take her up on it already! 🙂

  12. Work stress is hideous. I have a lot of it & while it used to come in waves, I now find myself dealing with a constant onslaught. It doesn’t get easier but you find ways to juggle things and mentally cope.
    Good luck!

    • Lizzy, you are a great example of a busy working mom who manages to make it all work. I give you a ton of credit! I can barely manage without having kids to worry about, so I am really in awe of people who do it with kids in the picture too. Keep on hanging in there. Yon inspire the rest of us. 🙂

  13. Do you enjoy the actual work? Your colleagues? Is it the pressure of deadlines? Determining what is really dreadful or bearable or good, will help. Working out ways of dealing with the dreadful is important. You may decide that sticking it for a few more months means you can ice to a much better gig somewhere else.

    • I do enjoy my work and colleagues, and I think I know which aspects of this job cause me the most stress. There is a lot of competition in academia, and I’m trying to build up my resume to be competitive in the job market in a few years. Only a small percentage of qualified applicants actually get faculty jobs, so there is pressure to outperform your (outstandingly awesome) colleagues. At least the pressure is coming from myself, and not anyone else.

  14. I’m very sorry to hear that the last couple months have been so stressful to you. I’m married to an academic – I know how much pressure there is in your situation and I have great respect for anyone who stays in the game! I hope you will be able to find a good life balance as time goes on.

    • Thanks Gail. I have great respect for anyone who succeeds! It remains to be seen whether I can handle academia in the long run, but in the meantime, I hope to find a new day-to-day balance soon. One day at a time. 🙂

  15. Sorry to hear you are under so much stress. I get it though, I worry too about whether I’ll be able to get my resume intersting enough to be able to get funding in a couple of years. One of the things that is very much appreciated here is experience abroad and that is just something I can’t do for personal reasons. Puts me at a disadvantage so I’ll probably have to work harder at other things.
    I hope you’ll feel less stressful soon! Getting off at an earlier stop and walk part of the journey sounds like a good start!

    • Thanks Emmely, and best of luck to you as well! Academia is such a strange work environment, and I’m getting more exposure to the “professional” side of things now that I’m no longer a student and am trying to make a legitimate career out of it. I’m not convinced it’s for me, but I’m committed to at least giving it a solid try. I’ve met many grad students and postdocs who’ve come to the US for a few years and then struggle with their personal situation and whether to return or stay, and it can be a really difficult situation. I hope you can find a way around it. Hang in there!

  16. After all the hard work to get where you are I feel for you that it’s getting even harder and more stressful. Lots of great advice above, I’m sure it will get easier. Keep your chin up and make time for sewing, and have quality time chilling in your posh Jim Jams.

    • Haha, thanks Ali! I do think it will get easier over time, and I’m trying to be patient in letting things settle down. One day at a time. I do have some upcoming sewing planned, so hopefully that will help. Fabric is on its way as we speak. 🙂

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